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MAKING THE MODERN WORLD
Stories about the lives we've made

module:Geography of health

Patterns of disease

page:Influences on health: 1900 and 2000

The main influences on changes in health have contributed to greatly increased life expectancy. In the UK this has increased from around 55 to 75 years since 1900 (with women living longer than men). Environmental conditions have improved considerably over the last century, reducing the threat of outbreaks of infectious disease.

You can read more about disease and conditions that led to ill health in previous centuries in the following scenes:


STORY: Muck and brass: The industrial town
SCENE: Disease in the industrial town
launch scene


STORY: Muck and brass: The industrial town
SCENE: Working conditions
launch scene


Family sharing an attic, c.1900. picture zoom © Wellcome Library, London

In 1900 there were no mass immunisations against major killers such as measles, neither were there antibiotics. Families were considerably larger, since birth control was in its infancy; the birth rate was 31 births for every 1000 people in 1890, 26 for every 1000 in 1900, but by 2000 was down to 13 for every 1000. But childhood diseases meant that infant mortality was very much higher then than it is now.


Influences on health

Around the year 2000 some developments had a negative effect. New infectious diseases (such as HIV/AIDS) and re-emerging ones (such as tuberculosis) are a threat, even though some diseases such as smallpox and polio have been all but eradicated by immunisation. Smoking and alcohol abuse remain a problem.


The door on the right is marked 'Lord have Mercy', a warning against entering because of the plague. c.19th century. picture zoom © Science Museum/Science and Society Picture Library

People have less active lives now; leisure time is greater, but it is often spent in static pursuits such as watching television and using computers. People's diets are also high in fats and sugar. There is a so-called ‘obesity epidemic', too; 16 percent of 6-16-year-olds are now obese, three times the rate in 1990. Around 66 percent of men and 50 percent of women can be classed as overweight or obese. This is associated with degenerative diseases linked with affluence, such as heart problems, cancer and diabetes.

Find about more about living with disease in the 20th century in the following scene:


STORY: Medicine as new technology
SCENE: Life with diabetes
launch scene

Resource Descriptions

Family sharing an attic, c.1900.
The door on the right is marked 'Lord have Mercy', a warning against entering because of the plague. c.19th century.
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